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Pentecost 24B 2012 (Remembrance Day)
“She gave her all.”   
Ruth 1-3; Mark 12:38-44

Audio file Nov 11 CPU sermon – see below for silent slideshow

© Rev Elisabeth R. Jones

This November 11th Day of Remembrance falls on a day when the Revised Common Lectionary leads us deep into the lived experience not of warriors, but of women. It’s an odd, and I dare to say provocative, convergence, in that it refracts the remembrances of war and the experiences of sacrifice through  a different lens than the one we’re used to using. I’m going to take this blessed convergence to offer a Remembrance Day reflection, cum-meditation  through the eyes of the widow.

But to do this I must first declare my limitations: I am a child of the 1960s. My parents were both children during World War II. War has barely touched me or my family directly, and I can stake no claim to personal direct experience of war.

Likewise, my life as woman and wife is charmed, blessed with love  and opportunity, education, abundance, and security.  I have no personal experience of the destitution, homelessness, lack of hope or possibility that was the lot of most widows of biblical times, and lamentably of so many widows in our war-torn, rapacious 21st century  world.

So I find myself unqualified to speak to the day’s memories, and to today’s texts. But I am called to preach, and when necessary to use words. Words that will draw from the crucible of sacrifice and suffering of wartime and widowhood, a Word from God, of wisdom and hope, a Word of faithfulness and resilience, a Word of comfort and commission.   Before I do, I want to let the experiences of others speak, through  images.  (A silent slide show of images of widows, children, war).

Pentecost 24B Nov 11 sermon slideshow

As we see the rawness of some of these photos, the complexity of real lives lived in the shadow of  war, systemic injustice, or ingrained poverty, real lives of real pain and desperation, there are, like poppies in a field, bright red flashes of hope, of life, fidelity, dignity. That same complex reality should also be the lens through which we view these widows of our texts today. “women of the Bible can become caricatures of womanly piety, and… essential femininity,” when in fact, Ruth supreme among them, is an ambiguous, complicated, resilient, resolute, poetic, practical, resourceful, realistic woman, teetering on the edge of despair or cynicism but choosing instead to “do what it takes” to carve out her right to survive,  her right to love and be loved, her right to live and give life, against overwhelming odds. And in case you can barely countenance the possibility that Ruth, the grandmother of David, and the ancestress of Jesus,  was prepared to give her body in order to guarantee her survival and that of her mother in law, Naomi, let me assure you  under those biblical euphemisms of uncovered feet and perfumed dresses, that this is precisely what she was prepared to do. She gave her all.

She is not alone. She is, if not everywoman,  is many women, in every continent and every century, whose breath is fierce with fidelity to life and life-love, vowing to go or stay,  to lodge or to flee, to live or die for the people she loves and whom she considers it her life’s work to protect. She is prepared to cross lines of received religious wisdom, of cultural practices, because her extreme circumstances take her to a place where cross-stitch morality no longer prevails, but the quest for life does.

She is the slave holder’s chattel, who will do what it takes to protect her children, she is the Polish or the Jewish woman of WW II shielding her children’s dignity in a cattle car, she is the Syrian woman pulling her children through barbed wire to an ambiguous safety in a refugee camp, she is the grandmother in AIDS-devastated Africa, she is the Hindu widow in Moslem Pakistan, she is the Congolese woman, hiding her sons in the jungle so that they won’t be hijacked as child soldiers…..

She is part of a sisterhood of wives, widows, daughters, mothers who watched sons, husbands, fathers, brothers go to war, never to return, or to return battle blasted, scarred in body, mind and soul. She is among the sisterhood left to run the farms, work in the factories, grow the crops, feed the infants, protect the young and very old, with nothing but resilience. She is Ruth. She gives her all.

She is our sister widow, the one whom Jesus saw, child in one arm,  the day’s meager measure of grain in a basket on her head, and a tiny coin, two of them, rubbing together in between her fingers, then dropped into a cavernous receptacle at the gateway to the Temple. A faith amazing, for she is not blind or stupid, just widowed. She knows that those coins feather the bed of the temple scribe, and feed the temple’s sacrificial lambs more food than she can feed her own. Why does she do that?

Because her man’s death  – maybe he was a freedom fighter? or dead before his time from hard labour? Who knows? – But her man’s death has robbed her of everything she had to gain, leaving her only with the capacity to give. And give she will, it’s who she is, it’s what she can do. It’s her defiance against all the forces of the world that destroy life and rob faith or hope. She gives to give, and mend, even if it means she  gives her all.

Warrior, woman, widow, they, she make sacred the act of giving sacrum facere,  to sacrifice, for in that sort of giving, life, a faith and hope for another’s future, is given.

And with such mite-sized gifts, is all given, and all is changed.

Ruth’s  story is told, her  great- great- grand-daughter widow’s story is told, held in the Remembrance of the Canon of Scripture, like a poppy in a Flanders field, fragile, anchored in the clay of devastation, fed by loss, and warmed by the life-giving sun, bright red defiance of the forces of death, testament to resilient fidelity to God’s greatest gift: life.

Amen.

 

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